"Vaccine Hunter" Todd Brady running for Iowa Senate in Ankeny

A Democratic challenger has emerged in the Iowa Senate district now represented by Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver, the upper chamber’s top Republican since 2018. Todd Brady announced on July 21 that he’ll run for the seat in Ankeny, a growing suburb to the north of Des Moines.

Brady has a computer science degree from Iowa State University and is best known as the creator of the Vaccine Hunter website, where thousands of Iowans scheduled COVID-19 vaccinations when appointments were scarce in the late winter and spring. Disclosure: in April, that website helped me find an appointment for my older son.

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Classroom meddling in Iowa can’t go unanswered

Bruce Lear on how a new law banning certain “specific defined concepts” in diversity training could affect Iowa teachers. -promoted by Laura Belin

Yes, it’s been a horrible, terrible, very bad year for public schools in Iowa. As usual, the Republican-controlled Iowa legislature underfunded schools. Also typical for them, they tried again to pass a voucher law to give public money to private schools. 

When that didn’t work, they passed “vouchers lite”: a mostly unregulated, for-profit charter school law, that will no doubt siphon money from the already underfunded public system, and that could leave rural Iowa as an education desert.

What wasn’t quite as typical was the legislature’s meddling in the classroom.

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Greater Heights

Ira Lacher ponders growing diversity and anti-immigration sentiment.

I’m coming down off an incredible high — not from a substance I ingested but from a substance I viewed, specifically In the Heights, director John Chu’s cinematic interpretation of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s 2008 Tony Award-winning musical about the dwellers of the Washington Heights neighborhood of Upper Manhattan in New York City.

Many of those residents, and the actors, actresses, and dancers who portray them, are descended from Latino immigrants. Movies being what movies are, all of them display an energy that derives strength from their ancestry, whether from the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Mexico, Ecuador, or other.

But regardless of “cinema o-verite,” that energy from the actual residents is real, and is pure American; the energy of hope, anticipation, and freedom.

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Regents pick highly qualified leader for University of Iowa

Mercifully, history did not repeat itself on April 30, when the Iowa Board of Regents selected Barbara Wilson to be the next University of Iowa president. Wilson is supremely qualified for the job, having served for the last six years as the second-ranking administrator at the University of Illinois system, and in several leadership roles at the Urbana-Champaign campus. A news release enclosed in full below describes her relevant experience.

All four finalists considered this year were far more qualified than outgoing president Bruce Harreld was when the Regents picked him in 2015, following a search marred by favoritism and secret meetings that appeared to violate Iowa’s open meetings law.

Whereas the Faculty Senate voted no confidence in the Board of Regents after Harreld was hired, and the Daily Iowan newspaper ran the front-page headline “REGENTS’ DECISION CONDEMNED,” reaction to Wilson’s hiring was overwhelmingly positive from students and faculty. The Daily Iowan’s editorial board had endorsed either Wilson or Georgia State University Provost Wendy Hensel as the best choices to take the university forward.

I was pleasantly surprised the Regents tapped Wilson, even though she fired a football coach and an athletics director at Illinois over scandals including alleged mistreatment of student-athletes. During Harreld’s tenure, Iowa’s Athletics Director Gary Barta continued to receive raises and a contract extension even after costing the university millions of dollars in lawsuits over discrimination and a hostile work environment.

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Historic new leadership for Iowa Democrats

For the first time, a person of color will lead one of Iowa’s major political parties. The Iowa Democratic Party’s State Central Committee on January 23 chose Ross Wilburn to serve as state party chair for the coming election cycle. Wilburn won on the first ballot in a field of four candidates after Brett Copeland withdrew his candidacy during the committee’s meeting.

The two candidates with a strong base of support among the 50-plus State Central Committee members were Wilburn, who received just under 65 percent of the votes, and Jodi Clemens, who received 33 percent. Clemens is a former Iowa House candidate and former staffer on Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign as well as Kimberly Graham’s 2020 U.S. Senate campaign. At last year’s state convention, she was elected to represent Iowa on the Democratic National Committee. She will continue in that role.

Wilburn has represented Iowa House district 46, covering part of Ames, since September 2019 and will keep serving in the state legislature. However, in order to focus his full-time efforts on leading the Democratic Party, he will quit his other job as diversity officer and associate director for community economic development at Iowa State University Extension and Outreach.

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